We're elated to welcome multi-disciplinary artist Daniel O'Toole back into the Modern Times gallery with his second solo exhibition, Luminous Unknown.

Inspired by by the notion that butterflies can perceive light frequencies beyond human perception, this collection captures the nuances of the colour spectrum with artworks that appear to be illuminated from within.

Our recent conversation with O'Toole delves into the origin of this body of work, and how a interdisciplinary approach aids his exploration and manifests in his finished pieces. Read on below to find out more, and explore the full collection here.


How do you feel that your practice has evolved since your last exhibition with Modern Times? 

In a visual sense I have moved further away from painting things by hand all the time, and am happily playing in the digital space. The results remain mostly ambiguous when paired with the frosted screen in my ‘refraction paintings’, I have been enjoying photographic experiments that involve soaking the film (after it's been shot), in various household ingredients like vinegar, salt, lemon, green tea etc. I’m using the digital screen as the sketchbook for colour ideas, and then re-photographing the laptop screen with film. So, I have some level of control over the outcomes in what is otherwise a process that depends heavily on chance.


Image taken by Marcus Coblyn.


Since my last show at Modern Times I have developed a large scale interactive sound piece ‘VOICES FROM THE VOID’, that was designed for groups of people to interact with, and was shown at Benalla art gallery in Feb earlier this year. That was a huge undertaking and involved a team of collaborators with the skills and knowledge I needed to make the dream a reality. 

So I suppose I have pushed further into working with different types of technology and collaborating more closely with my metal-work team to design and build sculptural works, and just generally enjoying collaborating with people to extend the potential of what I can create. 

As a multi-disciplinary artist working in both visual arts and sound, how do you think both these facets of your practice speak to one another? 

I draw inspiration from a range of sources, and often musical ideas that I am developing, or even just noise based atonal experiments can inspire painting ideas, and vice versa. Discoveries in the visual space can evoke ideas for me that relate to music. I think about this in terms of textures, harmony, composition, time and space. 

In terms of textures, I enjoy playing with different sounds that feel like they could relate to a visual element in the work. For example, vinyl noise or field recordings of rain could be a grainy paint texture from a spray gun, colour combinations that feel balanced and pleasing feel like major chord harmonies, and unexpected colour that clashes used sparingly is the musical dissonance or colour note that adds intrigue to the harmony; a passing note.

Image taken by Marcus Coblyn.
"I also find the visual effect of light refraction relatable to reverberation; light waves being scattered by a light altering material like the frosted screen is not dissimilar to sound waves bouncing around a large room or echoing in a valley,"
— Daniel O'Toole

My goal with these audio-visual phenomena that work in tandem, is to find meeting points where they are noticeably linked in the work and can affect each other in tangible ways that need no explanation or abstract thinking. The search continues… 

For this exhibition you have recorded and produced your very own vinyl – ‘Luminous Unknown’. Can you tell us a little more about the process of recording this? Is there a particular track you resonate with the most? 

The Keystone of the album is ‘Eye of the butterfly’ which was the original building block for the concept. I was given field recordings made in the Louvre/ Paris by friends of mine Joe Wilson and Chanelle Collier, (who are an amazing art duo) to re-interpret as a sound piece. 

The result was an 8 minute piece called ‘Eye of the butterfly’, and the idea of time feeling brief but beautiful and stretched out in our perception of it, was another thought that fed into the work. Since butterflies live for such a short time, a day does become a lifetime.

So this exhibition actually started with the sounds, and once the album was completed I began to think about how I could honour it with a series of works that reflect on the same themes. 


Image shot by Marcus Coblyn.

I was writing this music in my bedroom with midi-instruments and ended up writing some pieces for string quartet. The sample libraries of strings have come a long way and are totally usable in the context of a track with lots of other sounds going on, but when it came to just strings on their own.. I knew I needed the real thing. So, I recorded with a real quartet in Sydney at 301 studios and we ended up working with a composer to arrange string parts for most of the album, and the extra depth and emotion that the live quartet brought to my album was incredible.

When portraying a colour concept beyond human perception, what senses are most important to tune into?

I suppose there is no right or wrong way to approach something as ridiculous as this concept, it was an ambitious idea but I thought it would be an interesting starting point for a series.

The thinking was, if I saw a ‘new’ colour that I hadn’t seen before, it would probably look similar to other colours I had seen but somehow challenging in its newness, it might have some optical, vibrational impact that is beyond  the average visual experience; in much the way that iridescent surfaces found in nature have.

"I was thinking about colour combinations that have similar tonal values but opposing hues. Complementary opposites mixed with lots of white, to desaturate them and allow for a ‘glowing’ sensation to prevail.  "
— Daniel O’Toole

Some of the most successful experiments I came up with were very good achieving this but not very easy to look at, it seemed as though a certain amount of challenge and optically jarring effects were necessary to communicate the idea but I also wanted to make artworks that people might enjoy living with, and these two objectives were not always aligning easily. So I made many more works than was required and went through a lengthy editing process to cull things back to a series that pushed far enough into some challenging areas without becoming totally alienating.

When working in the studio, what do you find yourself listening to?

I listen to a lot of Ambient music, but also jazz, hiphop, reggae… lately a lot of celtic music as I have been more focussed on my violin playing this year and learning traditional Irish music.


Learn More: Luminous Unknown

View Exhibition Image Gallery